Friday, January 27, 2006



By John V. Whitbeck 

If one views the world through the eyes of Israeli and Western governments and media, one is likely to believe that the primary obstacle to Middle East peace has for the past several years been Fatah's failure to "dismantle the infrastructure of terror" and has now become Hamas' desire for the "destruction of Israel".   

A greater obstacle may be the failure to question what, if anything, such catch phrases actually mean and to move beyond them to rational thought.   

What does "dismantling the infrastructure of terror" mean? What "infrastructure"? Roads? Bridges? Office buildings? Given the distinctly personal and low-tech nature of the acts characterized as "terror" in the Palestinian context, "dismantling the infrastructure of terror" sounds rather like tearing arms and legs off people.   

It was not surprising that Israel and the West never sought to be precise about what they had in mind, since the objective of insisting that negotiations could not be resumed until the "infrastructure of terror" was dismantled was never to stimulate any conceivable action on the Palestinian side but, rather, to justify inaction on the Israeli side -- the avoidance of negotiations, which Ariel Sharon, with his unilateralist proclivities, was determined to avoid while building walls and fixing "permanent borders" as he saw fit.   

What was surprising was that the former Palestinian leadership did not point out the absurdity of this demand, choosing instead to issue public assurances that it would love to do so and would when it could, thereby implicitly accepting the Israeli and Western argument that the Palestinians, uniquely, have no right to resist occupation -- reason enough (even if there were no others) for them to be voted out of office.   

Now that Hamas' smashing election victory has rendered "dismantling the infrastructure of terror" moot, it appears that the "destruction of Israel" (already recited in the Western media virtually as though it formed part of Hamas' name) will become the new catch phrase used to justify avoiding negotiations or even "talks", as well as Israel's withholding of Palestinian customs revenues, the West's withholding of financial aid for Palestinian subsistence under occupation and a concerted effort to make the Palestinian people regret their flirtation with democracy and starve them into submission.   

It is therefore worth asking, early on, what wishing for the "destruction of Israel" actually means. The country's land surface sinking beneath the waters of the Mediterranean? Not likely. All Israelis being "pushed into the sea"? Neither likely nor practical. The end of the current settler-colonial state structure, which discriminates, both in law and in practice, in favor of the immigrant ethnic group and against those members of the indigenous population who have not already been ethnically cleansed?   

People may in good faith believe that such state structures are a good thing and deserve to endure (or, uniquely, to endure in this one instance), but is it really "beyond the pale" to believe otherwise -- particularly if one belongs to the people whose homeland has been conquered and occupied? Is anyone who believes that that the transformation of the Arab land of Palestine into the Jewish state of Israel, necessarily involving the dispossession and dispersal of the Palestinian people, represents a great injustice that should be rectified, by virtue of so believing, so morally debased that they should not even be spoken with?   

When the South African liberation movement called for the replacement of their country's settler-colonial, white-supremicist state structure by a fully democratic state, free of any form of discrimination based on race, religion or national origin and with equal rights for all who live there, this was not characterized as advocating the "destruction of South Africa" -- except by the apartheid regime itself. The peaceful transformation of that race-based state into a fully democratic one has been the most inspirational event in human and international relations in recent decades. 

Concepts and aspirations may be formulated in positive or negative ways. The "destruction of Israel" is clearly a negative formulation. The "creation of a fully democratic state with equal rights for all" in all of Israel/Palestine could be a positive reformulation which would be recognized by the world as just and offer genuine hope for peace and reconciliation. 

Israel and the West appear to be gearing up to punish the Palestinian people for having achieved the Arab world's first peaceful change of government through a genuinely democratic election (a truly breathtaking achievement), recycling the old mantra that "we will never talk with terrorists" ("never" having historically meant "until we wish to do so"). 

If Israel and the West were genuinely interested in peace, it would surely be wiser and more constructive to preemptively de-demonize Hamas (as the PLO was de-demonized when finally deemed convenient), to draw some enlightening conclusions from its election victory and to try, through engagement, to encourage it to adapt its aspirations and its quest for justice in a more positive and universally acceptable direction.   

John V. Whitbeck, an international lawyer, is author of "The World According to Whitbeck". 


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